2021 Research Review

As the year draws to a close, we’re looking back at 2021 and all that we have managed to achieve this year. With your support, we have been able to continue funding world-class research with the aim of transforming the lives of people affected by cancer in Wales – thank you. 

2021 began with the country in lockdown but, although the Covid-19 pandemic continues, life has thankfully returned to something approaching normality. At Cancer Research Wales, we too have been able to get back to normal by funding some fantastic cancer research happening here in Wales.  

Over £1.2 Million of Funding Pledged 

Every year we aim to build upon our successes and 2021 has been no different. In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been able to continue supporting novel and impactful research. This year, we have committed to more than £1.2 million of funding for research projects and clinical trials that have the potential to have a huge benefit for cancer patients. 

Over £800,000 will be spent on the BiCCC clinical trial, due to start in 2022. BiCCC stands for Brief Intervention with Cyclophosphamide in Colorectal Cancer and is the follow-up to another clinical trial funded by Cancer Research Wales, called TaCTiCC (you can read more here). In the BiCCC trial, intermediate stage bowel cancer patients will be given low doses of the chemotherapy drug cyclophosphamide following their initial treatment, which usually involves surgery and chemotherapy. It is hoped that the low dose cyclophosphamide will enhance the immune system’s ability to kill residual cancer cells and as such prevent relapse, which otherwise occurs in around 1 in 4 patients. 

We have recently pledged more than £100,000 for 6 projects under our Innovation Grant scheme. These grants afford scientists and clinicians the opportunity to undertake early-stage studies that are innovative and offer the promise of opening exciting new research avenues. The projects that will be funded cover a range of areas, including prostate cancer, radiotherapy, and diagnostics. 

Finally, we are continuing to support research in Swansea aimed at generating an accurate and efficient blood test for bowel cancer (more information is available here). We have funded this work over a number of years and are very excited about its potential to transform the outcomes for bowel cancer patients in Wales. 

Putting Research into Practice  

It is important to stress that not all research takes place in a laboratory. In fact, some of our key projects focus on studying health systems and patient experiences, to understand where there is room for improvement. Read below about one example of such research. 

Over 90% of cancer patients initially visit their GP when concerning symptoms arise, so it is vital that this primary care setting functions as efficiently and effectively as possible. Researchers at the North Wales Centre for Primary Care Research, funded by Cancer Research Wales, carried out a wide-ranging study that surveyed GPs, nurses, other healthcare staff and patients to gain an insight into the workings of primary care for cancer patients. This work led to a number of recommendations which were shared with Welsh Government. 

Building on their work, the researchers developed a training workshop for GP practices that targeted some of the problems they had uncovered. The workshop provided training and information around referrals and cancer awareness to GPs and their staff and helped the practices to set up safety netting procedures. This is all designed to facilitate earlier detection and diagnosis of cancer, which is vital to improving survival rates. The team are now planning a large-scale clinical trial to demonstrate how powerful a tool their workshop can be in the fight against cancer. 

Influencing Policy 

In last year’s research blog, we announced the appointment of a Policy and Public Affairs Manager, for the first time in our history. In the 12 months since, our Policy and Public Affairs Manager has been hard at work driving home the importance of cancer research to Welsh Government and ensuring that Cancer Research Wales is a strong and influential voice across the public and political spectrum.  

In March we launched the largest awareness campaign in the charity’s history to drive home its ‘Get Checked’ message, encouraging people with concerning cancer signs and symptoms to seek help from their GP. The Wales-wide campaign was in response to research that showed that between March 2020 and August 2020, 18,200 fewer people approached their GP with cancer signs and symptoms; this in turn led to a reduction in cancer diagnosis and fewer patients being treated for cancer than before the pandemic started. More than 6 million people saw the campaign, increasing the likelihood of people visiting their GP, leading to more cancers being diagnosed at an earlier stage and treated successfully. 

Building on our longstanding involvement in the Cross Party Group on Cancer, this December, Cancer Research Wales was elected to the role of co-secretariat of the Senedd’s Cross Party Group for Medical Research. This is a major step forward for the charity, enabling us to play a more central role in improving the quality and quantity of medical research in Wales for the benefit of the people of WalesAlso, as vocal members of National Cancer Research Institute and the Wales Cancer Alliance, we continue to make sure that cancer research remains high on the public agenda with the aim of driving forward a united strategy to addressing the key cancer challenges in Wales. 

The Next Generation of Researchers 

Research thrives on fresh ideas and new perspectives, which is why Cancer Research Wales have always funded PhD studentships, training new generations of researchers here in Wales.  

This year, two of our funded students have successfully completed their PhDs at Cardiff University – massive congratulations to Dr Catarina Menezes and Dr Sara Veiga! We also have 8 other PhD projects currently ongoing, so the future of research looks to be in safe hands. 

Looking Forward 

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of us, but cancer patients and their loved ones have felt the impact more than most. Whether it is being forced to shield, or facing enormous waiting lists for tests and treatment, it has been an incredibly difficult period for cancer patients. With some estimates that it will take years for the NHS to deal with its backlog, it more important than ever that research offers new methods and solutions for cancer patients. 

Here at Cancer Research Wales, we are driven by our goal of improving cancer outcomes for the people of Wales. Throughout 2022 and beyond, we will continue to fund and support the best cancer research that can make a real difference.  

All of us here thank you for your ongoing support, without which none of our work would be possible. We hope that you will continue to support us in whatever way you can, as we strive for a Wales united against cancer. 

To all of our supporters, our wonderful volunteers, our researchers, and everyone touched by cancer, we hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy 2022.